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How is property divided in a divorce?

We've all seen a television show where two characters have gone through a divorce. When it comes time to divide the character's property, the writers often depict an even 50/50 split of belongings, assets and debts, which leads a lot of people to believe that this is always the case in divorce, regardless of what state you live in.

But is this really true? Do all state laws allow for an even 50/50 split of marital property and debts? Some may be surprised to learn that the answer is: No. To better understand how property is divided in Tennessee, we need to look at the two ways in which marital property is divided in U.S. divorces. 

Community Property vs. Equitable Distribution

The terms "community property" and "equitable distribution" are common nomenclature in the divorce arena, but what are they and what's the difference between the two? Let's take a look.

States that follow community property rules see all property, income and debts accrued during the course of marriage as equally shared between each spouse, regardless of the fact that one spouse may contribute more to the marriage than the other.

Although property and debts accrued during a marriage are also divided in equitable distribution states, judges take a number of factors into consideration - such as the contributions of each spouse, among other things - to determine a fair split of it. This doesn't always work out to an even 50/50 split, though it can in some cases.

So how is marital property divided in Tennessee?

Because Tennessee is an equitable distribution state, marital property is divided in accordance with T.C.A. § 36-4-121(c), which takes a number of factors into consideration, such as:

  • Length of marriage
  • Age and physical health of each spouse
  • Each spouse's potential earning capacity after divorce
  • A spouse's need for educational training to rejoin the workforce
  • Each spouse's estate prior to marriage
  • The tax consequences of property division to each spouse
  • And much more

Talking to your divorce attorney during mediation or legal proceedings is best way to understand all of the factors that Tennessee family law judges consider in property division cases as well as how your specific property will be divided.

Otherwise, you may be taken in by the myth that all states follow community property rules - even though they don't - which could lead to misunderstandings and contentious disputes for you in the end.

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